New Yorker Says London’s Better

London calling.

London Walks connecting.

This… is London.

This is London Walks. Streets ahead.

Story time. History time.


It’s February 20th, 2024. Today’s pin – the news story pinned to the top of this podcast – is a lift from the Telegraph about scientists conclusively proving that there are gender differences in the human brain. That the brains of men and women operate differently.

Some of those differences: the male brain is 10 percent larger than the female brain. That has nothing to do with intelligence, though. It’s just a matter of bigger bodies require bigger brains. Other differences though do look to be of some significance. The male brain has stronger front-to-back connections and is optimized for motor skills. The female brain has stronger side-to-side connections and is optimised for intuitive thinking. And not so fast you male Neanderthals who picked up on that business of the male brain being bigger. The counterweight there is that the female brain has more grey matter. And what are the possible implications of the front-to-back and side-to-side connection differences? Well, as it happens it looks like there may be some health considerations. The scientists are saying men are more likely to develop alcohol dependence.

Men are three times more likely to be diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder. They’re four times more likely to have autism. They’re twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s disease.

Turning to women, they’re twice as likely to have depression.

Ditto – twice as likely – to develop Alzheimer’s. Four times more likely to develop multiple sclerosis. And more likely to have a stroke.

Well, that’s all hugely cheerful, isn’t it. But in my estimation – and I’m the decider, I’m the Editor of this podcast – in my estimation, male and female brain differences are more interesting than the run-of-the-mill traffic news and domestic violence and the knife fight in a Wimbledon Macdonald’s that is the best London can do so far today in the way of hard news stories. Though I was tempted by the headline, Epping chef in court over deer shot dead in Romford Park. That one’s got the ring of a 21st-century poaching offence so naturally it set my historical grey matter twitching.

Anyway, moving on. Today’s Random. And look, since our pin – our jumping off point today was men and women and their brains – let’s hoe a bit more in that row. Let’s take a quick look at London sex and London language. Language originates from the brain. And sex, well in at least some of its guises, it’s a male-female thing. Aside here, the single best piece of guiding advice I ever received came from a grizzled old veteran guide right after I started guiding. This was over 40 years ago. He said, “if you see their eyes start to glaze over just talk about sex or death and you’ll have them back instanta, just like that.”

Anyway, sex and language in London. London’s all about commerce. It’s dedicated to selling. And that’s one driver of prostitution. The poor have nothing sell so they sell their bodies. It was ever thus in London. And elsewhere I’m sure. All the way back to Roman times. London and sex as business – that matrix is attested to by the language. Famously, the London street walker’s come on is, “you looking for business?” A different cup of tea, so to speak, from the Parisian fille de joie’s breathy “l’amour”?

Anyway, here’s the main point. One measure of the historical prevalence and ubiquity of London prostitution was its lexicon, the countless nicknames for prostitutes.

Tarts,  madams, molls, fireships, buttered buns, doxies, ladybirds, punks, trugmoldies, Mother Midnights, drabs, punchable nuns, squirrels, mawkes, mackerels, cracks, cats, trulls, blowzabellas, jilts, smuts, bunters, wagtails, does, the list stretches out to the cracks of doom.

Now time for some refreshment, some fresh, country air. Country air in the heart of London. So, yes, this is today’s Ongoing. Our continuing, our ongoing engagement with London.

To start with it’s a straight lift from a moment on my Sunday morning Hampstead Walk.

As you’d expect, Hampstead Heath looms large on that walk. Hampstead wouldn’t be Hampstead without Hampstead Heath. So I take my walkers across three different stretches of the Heath: the West Heath, the main part of the Heath, and that bit through the woods to the Vale of Health pond. The West Heath is where our Heath walking begins. It’s where I introduce the Heath. I say, “Hampstead Heath is enormous. All by itself it’s ten percent bigger than Central Park in New York. And yet it’s only two percent of the total of London’s green. This is the greenest major city on the planet. And that’s an important reason why London is the most liveable city on the planet. The acreage tells the story. 47 percent of London is public green. 25 percent of Manhattan is public green. 9 percent of Paris is public green. And the thing about Hampstead Heath is it’s an enormous stretch of countryside smack dab in the middle of one of the greatest cities in the world. You can get lost on Hampstead Heath. And the sensation is uncanny. You feel like you’re lost in the countryside. And yet instinctively you know you’re in the centre of this great metropolis. No other city in the world has anything like this. And then I interject a personal story. I say, ‘my best American pal lives in Manhattan. He loves Central Park. We always have this spirited debate about the merits of Central Park as opposed to Hampstead Heath. It’s a debate that I always win. I say to him, “look David” – we share the same name – I say, “look David, it’s all in the name. It’s a park, it’s manicured, it’s manmade, it’s artificial – this is a Heath, it’s countryside, it’s the genuine article. It’s the difference between processed food and fresh food, whole foods, organic food.  There’s a world of difference.”’

Now as it happens, on last Sunday’s walk at that point, one of my walkers spoke up. He said, “I live in New York, I work in Conservation and I’m here to tell you, you’re right about this. Your friend doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Well, it turned out that my walker – his name was Lloyd – was practically a neighbour of my pal and we discovered that they even went to the same university. So just for fun I asked Lloyd if at walk’s end he’d be willing to elaborate on his remarks. The idea was I’d send the file to David. With a Case Closed label plastered all over it. David, meet Lloyd, he’s a fellow New Yorker, but, like you, he also is well acquainted with London, you lived here for a couple of years, Lloyd spends a month here every year. You’ve got a lot in common. Right down to both of you being Tufts alumni. And what’s really to the point, Lloyd’s got professional expertise, he works in Conservation, and he’s going to dispel your delusions, set you straight about the merits of Hampstead Heath as opposed to Central Park.

Well, of course then I was off. I thought, not only am I going to send this recording to my friend, I’m going to put it up on the London Walks podcast. Because here after all we’ve got an articulate, thoughtful New Yorker talking not just about the differences between Hampstead Heath and Central Park. But also about how New York City stacks up against London. This is worth disseminating to a wider audience. So here you go. Lloyd and I sat in the front pew of St John’s a walk’s end and had a little chat about the two greatest cities of the Western world, and especially their lungs, their green expanses.

[Lloyd interview follows]


You’ve been listening to This… is London, the London Walks podcast. Emanating from –

home of London Walks,

London’s signature

walking tour company.m

London’s local, time-honoured, fiercely independent, family-owned, just-the-right-size

walking tour company.

And as long as we’re at it,

London’s multi-award-winning walking tour company. Indeed, London’s only award-winning walking tour company.

And here’s the secret: London Walks is essentially run as a guides’ cooperative.

That’s the key to everything.

It’s the reason we’re able to attract and keep the best guides in London. You can get schlubbers to do this for £20 a walk. But you cannot get world-class guides – let alone accomplished professionals.

It’s not rocket science:

you get what you pay for.

And just as surely,

you also get what you don’t pay for.

Back in 1968 when we got started

we quickly came to a fork in the road. We had to answer a searching question:

Do we want to make the most money? Or do we want to be the best walking tour company in the world?

You want to make the most money you go the schlubbers route. You want to be the best walking tour company in the world

you do whatever you have to do

to attract and keep

the best guides in London –

you want them guiding for you,

not for somebody else.

Bears repeating:

the way we’re structured –

a guides’ cooperative –

is the key to the whole thing.

It’s the reason for all those awards, it’s the reason people who know go with London Walks, it’s the reason we’ve got a big following,

a lively, loyal, discerning following – quality attracts quality.

It’s the reason we’re able – uniquely – to front our walks with accomplished, in many cases

distinguished professionals:

By way of example, Stewart Purvis, the former Editor

(and subsequently CEO) of Independent Television News.

And Lisa Honan, who had a distinguished career as a diplomat (Lisa was the Governor of St Helena, the island where Napoleon breathed his last and, some say, had his penis amputated –

Napoleon didn’t feel a thing – if thing’s the mot juste – he was dead.)

Stewart and Lisa –

both of them CBEs –

are just a couple of our headline acts.

Or take our Ripper Walk. It’s the creation of the world’s leading expert on Jack the Ripper, Donald Rumbelow, the author of the definitive book on the subject.  Britain’s most distinguished crime historian, Donald is, in the words of The Jack the Ripper A to Z,“internationally recognised as the leading authority on Jack the Ripper.” Donald’s emeritus now but he’s still the guiding light on our Ripper Walk. He curates the walk. He trains up and mentors our Ripper Walk guides. Fields any and all questions they throw at him.

The London Walks Aristocracy of Talent – its All-Star team of guides – includes a former London Mayor. It includes the former Chief Music Critic for the Evening Standard. It includes the Chair of the Association of Professional Tour Guides. And the former chair of the Guild of Guides.

It includes barristers, doctors, geologists, museum curators, a former Museum of London archaeologist, historians,

university professors (one of them a distinguished Cambridge University paleontologist); it includes

criminal defence lawyers,

Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre actors,

a bevy of MVPs, Oscar winners (people who’ve won the big one, the Guide of the Year Award)…

well, you get the idea.

As that travel writer famously put it, “if this were a golf tournament,

every name on the Leader Board would be a London Walks guide.”

And as we put it: London Walks Guides make the new familiar

and the familiar new.

And on that agreeable note…

come then, let us go forward together on some great London Walks.

And that’s by way of saying, Good walking and Good Londoning

one and all. See ya next time.

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